Sebring Success (?)
was always going to be a fascinating challenge for the White Lightning
/ Petersen team: a full on charge for 12 hours round Sebring…chasing
the Alex Job Porsches. Johnny Mowlem fills us in on his adventures – on
the way to an excellent second in class. Johnny wasn’t a
particularly happy man afterwards though.
particular order, we asked him to explain all the incidents
and intrigue going on at the head of the GT class – and
the problems of racing against the Prototypes too. We began
with the racing incident he had with David Brabham in the
of the corner onto the back straight, there’s a large
six feet wide kerb on the exit, which has the rumble strips
on the first part, but beyond that it’s smooth, so you
can run wide there sometimes, to boost your speed onto the
straight. I knew the Bentley was coming, obviously, and had
turned in a little bit later because he was there. As I was
coming off the corner, as wide as I could be, right over the
kerb, the Bentley just ran along the side of me.
I was afraid
that we’d got some damage, but later at the end of the
race I noticed that fortunately all we had was a tyre mark
along the side of the car. At the time I called the incident
in on the radio, and told the team I was going to keep going,
but keeping a wary eye on temperature gauges, and any sense
of a puncture. Everything seemed fine, the steering was straight,
so I kept going, and pitted on schedule.
laps, the team had seen it on the TV, and came on the radio
to tell me that it was blatantly the Bentley’s fault.
I didn’t know who was in it, because you just can’t
see into those cars. But by the time we got on the bus to go
to the podium, I knew it was David, who apologised to me. “Really
sorry mate, I didn’t do it deliberately.”
led to an enquiry of Johnny – what was going on out
there, between the GTs and the 900s?
The top boys
just go at it, hard at it, all the time – but there’s
no such thing as driving too hard. This is racing, they’re
just getting on with it, doing their jobs. Tom (Kristensen)
was pretty good when he came up to pass you, but he didn’t
do you any favours either. Johnny (Herbert) just throws it
down the inside, and sorts it out from there on. But the problem
is that with the Bentleys, you can’t see who’s
coming. Last year you knew it was Johnny coming.
You do get
used to spotting a helmet approaching you, and reacting accordingly.
If it’s Emanuele Pirro, you know he’s not going
to do anything silly. Philipp Peter understands what we’re
doing in the Porsches because he’s got so much experience
of them. All the Joest Audi drivers were impeccably behaved
at Sebring, in traffic. But by spotting who’s coming,
you help them by not putting them in a position where an incident
the Bentley, I can only think that the visibility is just poor.
Plus, it was their first race – for the cars and all
of the drivers except for Guy (Smith) – and they hadn’t
driven it in traffic, except for Guy at Le Mans (in the older
car). They weren’t driving too hard, but maybe, as with
David, it was slight misjudgements.
and qualifying. There were some highlights, and frustrations,
all mixed in, weren’t there?
been right with the two Job cars all week – just a tenth
or less in it most of the time. I love qualifying – but
maybe we peaked a little too early. In the Thursday morning
session, I set a 2:06.9 on old tyres, then a 6.2 on fresh tyres.
I could sense something really special for the qualifying session…but
I never got a clear lap. I did eight laps in total, I set off
for a time on all six flying laps, I aborted three of them,
and was held up in traffic on the other three too. I went out
late to try and find track space, but that turned out to be
the wrong thing to do.
My best lap
in the end was a 2:07.6: my best lap until four corners to
go would have been a 6.5, but we still wouldn’t have
had pole, so I suppose it doesn’t matter.
/ White Lightning team were happy after qualifying third, but
I was gutted. We’d been with the Job cars all week, until
both did a great job. Craig (Stanton) was being careful, as
Nic (Jonsson) was too, because neither of them wanted an incident
in their first race with the team, and Nic hadn’t driven
a Porsche before. They both did a perfect job of staying out
of trouble, but we were going to struggle to stay with the
Job cars all the way through. Having said that, we were only
two minutes down after 12 hours, and we lost two minutes checking
/ repairing the floor…
phase of the race?
I spent the
first 45 mins. right with Sascha (Maassen). The gap went out
a little in traffic, but then I brought him closer again. I
enjoyed that stint as it was nice to keep the AJR cars honest
for a change, like we did at Mid-Ohio last year. I actually
took the lead at the first pit stops, as we went onto a different
pit strategy to Alex Job.
On one occasion
when I got out of the car Herbert Ampferer and Alwin Springer
came by and shook me by the hand, and slapped me on the back. “Good
job, well done.” I think they could see I’d been
race when I saw Alex Job, I explained to him that his cars
seemed to have the advantage with the initial squirt coming
out of the slow corners, and when they put the power down coming
out of the last corner. Alex seemed pleased with that description.
The Job cars seemed so consistent….
had a little more power too, but there will be times when we
might have a slight power advantage, as we did at Mid-Ohio
dramas during the race?
just got out of the car when Kevin (McGarrity) had his accident,
and the way he went into the wall and the damage to the footwell
area, I think he was lucky. I didn’t know if it was Marino
or Kevin in the car at first, and either way I was very worried
because initially it looked really quite bad. It was a big
relief that Kevin is basically OK. One of the mechanics showed
me the pedal area of the car. Kevin did very well to drag himself
out of there unaided.
had wanted me to get back in the car just before the yellow,
because we couldn’t find Craig. I was pretty knackered
then, and ended up driving nearly seven hours out of the 12.
the Bentley moment, the only other problem was with the floor.
A bolt had worked loose, and the wire lock that holds the floor
on had also broken, so it was flapping about. They were thinking
of cutting the floor off, because you could have a big accident
if that comes away during the race, but in the end they removed
part of it and re-attached it. It knocked for the rest of the
race, and that cost us some time. My best lap in the dark was
a high 2:08, but I’d set a 2:07 at the start in daylight,
and the track is usually quicker at night.
my last stint of the race, Sascha came out of the pits just
in front of me, but I managed to pass him before his tyres
were up to temperature, and basically drove flat out to stay
ahead of him, effectively on the lead lap, to keep him behind…in
case a caution occurred. We took the flag together, but because
the winners had already passed the line, I obviously couldn’t
run round and complete the same lap as #23 had just finished,
so we were listed as a lap down. It was really just over two
minutes, and we lost two minutes with the loose floor.
No one else
except our Petersen car and maybe also the Orbit car could
get near them. The Job drivers claimed to be flat out throughout,
but really I think they had a little in reserve. It was a little
frustrating personally to finish second, but I was really pleased
for the whole team as they worked so hard and really deserved
a good result. All in all, following on the second place overall
at Daytona, it hasn’t been a bad start to the season!
that on March 20, the Petersen car was excluded from the
results for an infringement of the fuel capacity regulations.